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December 07, 2005

Just A Thought

Can someone explain to me why folks think Townhall.com is important enough to read? I mean, I realize there's a humor element there, but reading every column they publish in a day in order to make a couple jokes is really giving them way exposure and power than they deserve. Townhall, after all, isn't reading Feministe or Pandagon and summarizing their points each evening.

I always fear, particularly in the blogosphere (and this goes not only for both sides, but for me)*, that the incentives are all aimed at mercilessly mocking the most pathetic arguments to emerge across the aisle. Tearing them apart is funny, safe, and a sure way to attract some hits. But, in the end, all we engage with is idiocy from from maniacs, and all our readers end up seeing are quotations from morons that get shredded moments later.

What's missing there is actual engagement with the good, or at least sound, arguments that pop up across the aisle. That's not to say George Will, or QandO, (or, if you're a Republican, Kevin Drum and EJ Dionne) or any of the more reasonable folks are right or convincing, but that the ideology they express isn't a caricature, and there's something comforting about that. It's easy to hate ill-intentioned hacks, but when folks are engaging in a fairly honest attempt to work through problems and arrive at conclusions, even when they end up in the wrong place, they've taken a respectable journey. And sometimes, highlighting that would be a bit more useful than mocking Ben Shapiro.

By the way: I should be careful not to single out Feministe here, a post there just brought this to mind. God knows I go after the easy targets too, and summaries of Townhall aren't the worst offenders. I used to do summaries of the Idiotarian Rottweiler, or whatever that guy's name was. Same concept, even less useful. And nor is it that there's no place for mockery and ridicule, but that a bit more engagement with stronger arguments from the other side would be a good thing. There's no balance. I just don't see the good pieces from the right getting mentioned.

So let me be clear: it's not that the blogosphere lacks room for mockery and fisking, but that it doesn't seem to make room for more serious cross-aisle engagement. And that's my fault as much as anyone's. Moreover, as some of my commentors pointed out, the two aren't necessarily related, so maybe I'm barking up the wrong tree by inveighing against the fish-in-a-barrel approach to blogging, and it's really just that folks should make an effort to argue against strong opponents as well. Who knows?

December 7, 2005 | Permalink


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Oh, jesus, lighten up.

Posted by: Jim Madison's Dog | Dec 7, 2005 2:03:56 PM


Posted by: norbizness | Dec 7, 2005 2:04:19 PM

An entire blog that was solely devoted to mocking Townhall every single day would certainly be a waste, but I don't mind some all-encompassing mockery every now and then.

As clownish as he is, Ben Shapiro really is one of the more disturbingly crazy wingers out there, from what I've seen of his stuff. He did one column a couple of years ago that all but directly justified the assassination of Yitzhak Rabin.

Posted by: Haggai | Dec 7, 2005 2:09:35 PM

Because it's funny. And it's worth way, way more than a couple of jokes a day. It's nonstop hilarity, it is.

Do the words "Kaye Grogan" mean "anything" to you? ;)

Posted by: TheDeadlyShoe | Dec 7, 2005 2:09:58 PM

of course, that's renew america, but the point stands.

I should think if anything has been made clear by recent years, it's that ignoring them doesn't work.

Posted by: TheDeadlyShoe | Dec 7, 2005 2:10:42 PM

Blog apostasy!

Posted by: Realish | Dec 7, 2005 2:16:48 PM

You have an asterisk in this post that doesn't seem to lead to anything. I'll add a footnote here

*but not on Sunday

Posted by: Cryptic Ned | Dec 7, 2005 2:46:19 PM

To be honest, I suspect that most people would rather mock idiots than engage serious thinkers for fear that their own views will be refuted. This works for most people on all sides of the spectrum.

That said, I'm perfectly willing to debate a serious thinker. As I blogged the other day, I'm desperately worried about what I see as the philosophical implosion of the Democratic Party, and if someone arises with useful ideas that I think are legitimate, I'll back him up. You know me, I'm hardly a Rovian drone :-)

Posted by: Mastiff | Dec 7, 2005 2:50:00 PM

Ezra, perhaps you should ask your previous co-blogger Jesse. I'd say he earned his name doing the same thing, and that clientele was your original big audience.

I think it's a bit snooty of you to disdain the blogging styles of others. I love reading the rants of folks like Sadly, No! and The Poor Man. And I love reading your more reasoned analysis. The liberal side of the blogosphere is big enough to encompass both styles.

Posted by: verplanck colvin | Dec 7, 2005 2:57:10 PM

Can someone explain to me why folks think Townhall.com is important enough to read?

Because when liberal bloggers run out of material, they can always find something fresh to blog about by trolling around Townhall.com for a ridiculous article to mock. No one would read a blog that isn't regularly updated, and Townhall.com consistently provides fresh material.

I mean, let's face it, mocking george will for his syrupy-sweet missives on baseball might be fun, but it doesn't get the blood pumping of the blog readership.

Posted by: Constantine | Dec 7, 2005 2:58:09 PM

to add to previous comments - The Poor Man, Sadly, No!, and World o' Crap arn't the whole of the lefty blogosphere, Ezra! If you want to engage serious thinkers, you do it. There is plenty of stuff around in this vein, I don't see how it could be said that Teh Funneh is pushing out 'serious thinking'.

Posted by: TheDeadlyShoe | Dec 7, 2005 3:02:34 PM

also, you do realize that these silly people are the background singers of people like Bill O'Reilly and his War on Christmas? The person who leads Renew America is noted crazy person Alan Keyes?

if we didn't mock this stuff, we'd have to cry!

Posted by: TheDeadlyShoe | Dec 7, 2005 3:04:50 PM

One of the problems is that no matter who your principled conservative of choice (George Will, David Brooks, maybe Sullivan or Hitch, for Ygeslias for some reason it's Ross Douthat, etc.) they will eventually say something so ridicously partisan/hackish/whatever that it's hard to keep the whole "respectful disagreement" thing going. I'm sure they think the same thing about us.

Also, as we become more partisan, to some degree not only do our arguments diverge, but the propositions and assumptions which we start from do too. Por ejamplo, David Brooks and his whole "now is the time of the governing conservative" idea. We can respect that he sees the Republican Party needs to "grow up", but he's predispositioned to believe that "right now" there is evidence of that happening, whereas we are not. And without shared assumptions, constructive dialogue is hard.

Posted by: Tony Vila | Dec 7, 2005 3:08:33 PM

....I'm desperately worried about what I see as the philosophical implosion of the Democratic Party...

Well, said. It seems the Democratic message has been supplanted with the separate demands of small disparate groups who have little in common. Atheists generally gravitate toward the Democratic party, but so do the blacks, a very religious group who in turn despise the homosexuals for religious reasons and also for comparing their cause with that of race. While the Republicans also have sub-groups, their message is more homogeneous and less fractured.

Posted by: Fred Jones | Dec 7, 2005 3:09:38 PM

I think the Town Hall summarizers are performing an important public service. Large numbers of people actually believe the hateful dreck that Town Hall serves up. I think of the summaries as partial insurance against the pundit's fallacy.

Posted by: Lindsay Beyerstein | Dec 7, 2005 4:12:27 PM

Why "supplanted" Fred? Even accepting your premises that the Democrats are just hackish and unprincipled conglomerations of these groups and they're reviled throughout America, how would this be new? When did atheists ever not draw to the Democratic party? How long has it been since black people, including religious black people, voted for Republicans in large numbers? How is what you are saying at all new or relevant?

Posted by: Tony Vila | Dec 7, 2005 4:56:10 PM

How is what you are saying at all new or relevant?

Never said it was new. However, it is extremely relevant. Many of the wigged out groups such as PETA and the homosexuals became visible about the time the party started losing power. As more and more groups align themselves with the party, the central theme of the party gets dissolved. I guess none of this is relevant if you wish to be further marginalized.

Posted by: Fred Jones | Dec 7, 2005 5:17:43 PM

I don't think his point is snooty at all. In fact, that's what turns me off from the vast majority of blogging on both sides. I don't want to read about what some wingnut said about "ScAlito" (haha, see what he did there?). These are serious things, and while humor is great (I miss Jesse, though he went over the to too often), both sides of the divide are creating enough straw men to people Oz and enough bad blood for half a dozen crusades. I get the feeling that's because everyone seems to think that it's an ideological holy war, and not an exchange of ideas. I liked Ezra's bit about the "respectable journey." More people need to realize that just because they don't agree with you, their point of view isn't valuable. Sure, you think they're wrong. Heck, they even might really be wrong. But the world isn't built upon absolute truth, either liberal or conservative. I suppose that's what bothers me about Kos. He mocks ideologues and intra-party backstabbers than turns around and does the same thing, with different reasons.

I think another problem with credibility, though, are the incessant and incindiary attacks bloggers level at the media. We had an article on /. about tech bloggers earlier today, and one point I think was very valid: "We don't see anyone criticizing 'mainstream' electrical engineers.'" While at first this might seem a bad analogy, it's really not. A great number of EE people are just as unsound in their field as they are in the media, it's just that their audience is students and manufacturers (who end up with defective products on their hands). The majority of people try to shy away from real or apparent outright hatred.

Posted by: Fnor | Dec 7, 2005 5:32:27 PM

One thing the Dems/Liberals/Progressives seem to be understanding is that when you are on the receiving end of an endless, merciless, coordinated attack from the rabid dogs of the right, that turning the other cheek just does not work, and it doesn't feel good either.

So, hit them harder than they hit you. But speak the truth, especially attending to exposing the lies, hypocrisy, and pure wackoness. Bloddy their noses in facts, ridicule, and whatever word-tools can be deployed.

But. I do agree with Ezra that 'serious' arguments from the right do need to be responded to with similar serious arguments. The dearth of these 'serious' conservative/Republican/wingnut/Neo-Con arguments seems to account for the lack of left responses.

Anyway, kick them in the nuts when they are silly, racist, demented, spinnig, or whatever. Why should the left allow our image to be of wimps when all that is needed is courage and outrage to confront the schoolyard bullies.

Posted by: JimPortandOR | Dec 7, 2005 6:27:50 PM

"The dearth of these 'serious' conservative/Republican/wingnut/Neo-Con arguments seems to account for the lack of left responses."

Speaking of straw men…

You could always come up with good political philosophy on your own, or policy, without waiting for someone to refute with it. Imagine that!

Posted by: Mastiff | Dec 7, 2005 6:43:23 PM

The problem is that at this point, there are no 'serious thinkers' who are still defending the administration. I don't read Townhall, but can it be that much more stupid than what's coming from Instapundit or Power Line? (Or Will or Hitchens, etc.?)

I try to ignore the wingnut-o-sphere as much as possible. Only the die-hard true believers are left, and they have nothing else to say.

All the questions are settled. The invasion was wrong; the occupation is wrong. The tax cuts were wrong. The judicial nominations were wrong. Etc. etc. on just about anything you can think of.

Politics just isn't as complicated as we sometimes make it out, or perhaps not enough to sustain a daily blog when it's not election season. Bush and co. are intent on doing things that we know are foolish and immoral. A few 'dead-enders' (to borrow a phrase) are still fighting the not-so-good fight, and I don't know that there's much to be gained from engaging them.

But we have blogs that must be fed. So we mock. Because at this point, what else is there to do?

Posted by: Dadahead | Dec 7, 2005 8:03:40 PM

You do know that politics is more than just President Bush and the Iraq war, right? There's always stuff to talk about. International trade. Diplomatic relations. Health care. Both sides are constantly putting out opinion pieces, think tank research and a whole bunch of stuff. There's a lot more to politics than just what certain politicians are focusing on publicly at the moment.

Posted by: Fnor | Dec 7, 2005 11:21:39 PM

I agree, Ezra (even though I was the mocker who apparently inspired this post). But like other commenters have said, I think it's important to point out that people actually think these things, and it's considered mainstream Conservative thought. Sure, Townhall doesn't read Feministe, but neither does the New York TImes, and I write about what they publish quite a bit. Does Townhall have the same reach as the Times? No, but the fact remains that they have a large, receptive audience.

Engaging in real political discourse is infinitely more valuable than mocking the other guy, but as others have said, sometimes you just need to update -- and sometimes, what the other guy says is so ridiculous that it's not worth taking seriously, but still worth pointing out. That, and I have law school finals in a week. I don't have time to think or write about anything that takes effort.

Thanks for the link, and for bringing this up.

Posted by: Jill | Dec 7, 2005 11:46:06 PM

Aw, hell. Jill is reasonable and I'm all snarky.

We really are two different people!

Posted by: Lauren | Dec 8, 2005 1:07:53 AM

lessee now.... first, we would have to *find* a "serious thinker" on the right....

Posted by: donna | Dec 8, 2005 1:56:23 AM

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